Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Under the Bodhi Tree

Today, Dec. 8, is the day celebrated throughout the Buddhist world as the time when Buddha attained enlightenment. Priest Darlene Cohen shared the traditional story at the Healdsburg sangha.

A former prince, Siddhartha left home at age 29 on a spiritual quest. He spent the next six years in severe ascetic practice, frequently going without food, shelter, and comfort. But at the end of that time, although recognized as having attained a high spiritual level by others, he himself felt that the answer was still not realized.

So he seated himself under the Bodhi Tree and vowed not to move until he became enlightened. While sitting, he focused on the ultimate nature of all things, "emptiness." Emptiness does not mean nothingness. It means the absence of distinctions, and a clear vision of the complete interconnectedness of all things. This is what we do during zazen - letting each thought come up, and then letting it pass, continuing to sit while being aware of body and breath.

Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree for seven days. During that time, Devaputra-Mara (chief of the demons) conjured up fearful visions of falling rocks and mountains, and blazing fires. But Buddha's concentration was so great, that through his samadhi the rain of stones turned into flowers, and the fire became rainbow light. Next Mara went to enticement, sending countless beautiful women. He also tried to tempt Buddha into the trap of ego, thinking himself separate from and better than others. Buddha resisted all of this.

On the eighth morning, he looked up and saw the morning star twinkling on the horizon. In that moment, he experienced a deep and profound enlightenment. He saw there was a "middle way," lying between self-indulgence and self-denial. And he sensed the interconnectedness of all things,

The Dalai Lama said, paraphrasing, that at the heart of Buddhism lies the belief that the potential for enlightenment lies within each human being.

Buddha was merely a man. The way is as open to each one of us as it was to him.

Happy enlightenment day!

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